Are You There Judy? It’s Me, Ally

Hey Judy,

Me again. This time I’m not asking for advice on big life lessons. I want to say thank you. Thank you for writing great books. They got me through puberty. And now, there’s A MOVIE!

I can’t wait to watch Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret. Did this happen intentionally? Were you thinking about making this a possibility years after you published every pre-pubescent girl’s guide to body changes on purpose? How many pre, peri, regular, and post menopausal women will be in every theater across the country when it opens?

We’ll drag our daughters by the ears to watch it with us. (Do they even read anymore?). I’m orchestrating a watch party, at one of my favorite eatery theaters of course, because we must have access to fancy snacks and mimosas. Beer. Wine. Cocktails. I’m sure my favorite place will have a full menu of book related fare and fancy sips.

I might sneak in a pack of Oreo cookies, take a stack of four, and put two back as a nod to Blubber. I’ll drink a glass of orange juice before I get there in honor of Deenie. I’ll buy a brand new bra so I’m ready for “We must, we must, we must increase our busts!” However, in this case, it doesn’t need increasing, just lifting. I will mortify my thirteen year old with no shame.

I read this book twice in middle school. Years later, it was part of a Banned Books display in our school library one year when I took my class. Two boys were curious, I explained why it was my favorite, and they each checked out a copy. “There’s no better way to learn about girls than to read about them.” Sold!

I plan an adult me reading of it before the movie is released. I’m looking forward to loving it all over again.

Your Faithful Book Fan,


*Occasionally, I write to Judy Blume.

First letter is here.

Second letter is here.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Secret Spaces

Aesop-Fabled Bookshop and Cafe, Waco, Tx

Ever find that secret little spot unexpectedly? I found one last summer, a secret garden* of sorts, tucked into a cul-de-sac in my neighborhood. I visited agin this morning.

Monday, we took a day trip to a book store I had been eyeing. Local book shops are my favorite spaces because they’re full of charm and quiet energy.

Within walking distance from our lunch spot, we visited Fabled Bookshop and Cafe in Waco, Tx. Upon entering, Aesop the Owl welcomed us with a tip of his hat. The book cases, dark and cozy, held the usual sorts of books. Shelf talkers, scripted by employees introducing people to their next great read, persuaded me to choose them from the shelf, if not add them to my TBR list.

I always like to check out the kid’s section even though my youngest is thirteen. She upgraded to the YA section, but the lure of kid lit always draws me in at least to take a peek.

I didn’t find it, but my daughter did. I gasped in excitement, so much as to cause her embarrassment even though the two year old writhing away from her mom trying to read her a picture book on the blue velvet couch barely noticed us.

Faux fur coats hung neatly in a built-in wardrobe. We parted the coats on the rack, and sure enough, there’s a door! Is it real? Does it open or is it just for show?

She hunches down, pushes the door, and sure enough, it opens to the other side, the YA section, of all places. As she makes her way through, a group of college aged kids are on the other side, hunched down, making their way in.

“Come on in! The White Witch is gone and Mr. Tumnus has hot tea waiting for us,” I playfully say in my best Lucy voice.

“Oh, yes, we shall come in!” Through the door they enter the kid’s section.

What a gem of a book shop.

*You can read about A Secret Garden here.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Breaking Up with Books

Abandonment sounds so final. If it isn’t a good fit, there’s no point to continue reading. However, I’m the type who wants to hang on until the end, gives me more to talk about if I don’t like it. I use the term “breaking up with a book” to explain to students to move on and find something else if they aren’t connecting with their selections. It’ll still be there if you want to go back to it later, I tell them.

Why don’t I take my own advice? Why would you want to read a book you aren’t enjoying? I do it to myself. I’m loyal. Even with books. Usually.

I’m on a re-reading streak of some favorites. Deenie by Judy Blume. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on audio (so good!). The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. I need to stop here because I’m already overloading my list. This in addition my regular TBR tower, which groans under the heft of a new book I can’t resist when I’m shopping. I buy the ones that have library waitlists longer than several months.

I’m a slow reader, so if a book sounds like a great read, I usually buy it so I can spend all the time I need with it. Unfortunately, it takes me a while to get to them.

Beyond the queue, I’m considering adding break-up books. For different reasons, I couldn’t handle them at the time I picked them up. Dare I go back?

I broke up with A Wrinkle in Time as a kid, as a teacher, and as a parent. I checked this book out every year in middle school. I couldn’t get past the first few chapters. I tried reading it to my fourth graders one year. They weren’t crazy about it, we reassessed, and chose something else.

When the 2018 movie was released, the one with Oprah, my nine year old requested the book. We got a copy after having watched the movie, which is the opposite of our books-to-movie household rule. I started reading it aloud to her and she intercepted the book after the first few chapters. Book dumped. Similar to being Netflix dumped, but with a book. She finished it without me. It wasn’t a favorite, but she enjoyed it while it lasted. I seem to stop every time after, who is it–Mrs. Whatsit?– shows up.

The Hobbit. Fourth time’s a charm? I also broke up with this one as a kid, as a teacher, and as a parent. I have it on Audible. It’s next in line after I finish HP2, which is due tomorrow. I watched the movie with my oldest and enjoyed it. This one might work.

I once read or heard somewhere that people need to listen to great stories. Was it Neil Gaiman?

Those great classics? They’re meant to be read aloud. They sound different when you hear them. I enjoyed Harry Potter, but listening takes it to a whole other level. If it’s a great listen, I can always go to the book to annotate, highlight favorite passages, and maybe add it to my TBRA pile, to be read again, in print.

I’m sure there are more, but here are other book relationships that didn’t work out, each for different reasons. I may rekindle these by listening instead. (Except for Verity, I flat out didn’t like that one.)

Neil Gaiman on reading aloud and audiobooks linked here.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

The Story Keeper: Part II

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

As I worked with a small group of students using the button maker, another student came in, hunting me down. What’s so urgent?

“Mrs. Garza! I have to show you this!”

She holds a folded red bandana. Usually students either show me their own copies of a book I recently added to our collection. A published piece of writing from language arts class. A LEGO mini-figure. A new mani. A second ear piercing.

Walking toward the desk, she slowly unwrapped the bandana. “Look what I have. I need to be careful or it’ll break. It’s over a hundred years old.” Leaving the bandana on the table, she cradled it. A book, but not one I recently added to the collection. It was old. Over a hundred years old. A yellow envelope peeked out from underneath the front cover. I almost didn’t want to touch it, but I couldn’t wait to hold it.

Leather. Old leather, with pieces so worn they had fallen off. I needed gloves to handle it and here she was, brining it to school wrapped in a bandana and plopped into a backpack. Our new library bound books can barely take the brunt of a middle schooler’s backpack. “Where…”

“I got it at a garage sale! The lady gave it to me. I didn’t even have to pay for it. She said it belonged to her grandfather.” Another story about an hour after the previous grandfather story. Must’ve been National Grandfathers Leave Something Special to a Loved One Day and I didn’t get the memo. “Look at the letter!” she exclaims excitedly. “It has actual writing from the 1800’s.” Definitely an artifact because it’s actual writing. Opening the cover, she explains how the page had fallen out, or rather, broken out. There it was, a note with actual writing on it.

I tried not to gasp. I’m not sure if the book is worth anything, but the page was glued onto a sheet of paper which was glued onto an envelope. Yikes! I’m not an archivist, but this one may or may not be worth taking to an archivist. Wanting to check the publication date, I tried to open the next page to find information. It was too brittle. Not wanting to damage it, I opened pages that wanted to be opened. The print is still in decent condition.

I imagine I would’ve fallen in love with this book had I been able to see it back in the 1800s. Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. I saved the title for last. A book of poems by John Milton. I spoke a little of what I remember about John Milton, which isn’t much, and his famous Paradise Lost. I asked for permission to take pictures. I suggested she check into having an expert take a look at it. What thrilled her most was the note written inside and the fact she got it free. At a garage sale.

This was a second story to add to my collection in the same day. My campus was without a librarian last year and library activities halted. It’s taken me a while to get the flow of it, get to know the teachers, and get to know the students. They are coming in more frequently now, teachers and students. And they’re sharing their stories with me. Even if they were free from a garage sale. I call that a win.

The Story Keeper

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

“Everyone has a story to tell. All you have to do is write it. But it’s not that easy.”

Frank McCourt

We received two shipments of delayed book orders I placed last semester. Supply chain issues. I’m new at my campus after spending my first five years as a librarian at an elementary school. I went back to the middle. What people don’t know is there are more steps to getting books onto the shelves than what meets they eye. “They already come with the barcodes, why can’t you just scan the book and check it out to me?” Not that easy. Not that quick.

First, I have to make sure I received everything. Publishers make mistakes, so I have to check that all of the pages-of the correct book-are in order, match the cover, match the correct series, match the genre. I load the records. Not only that, I have to go through each record to check for errors. This is the ELA teacher equivalent of grading papers. It’s time consuming. Sometimes I edit records and change genres to match what we have at our library. Example: mystery books are labeled suspense books on my campus. When everything is ready, I send the records to our district systems librarian so they are added to our catalog.

I lay my hands on each book, label them with corresponding genre stickers, print new call numbers if needed, stamp the inside with the date received and label them with our school’s address. Then I pay for them. Well, the district does, but I have to enter financial information on a program that never has liked me. Each book is inventoried and the final touch is a bright yellow NEW sticker above the call number.

They’re enticing. So much so that I want to check all of them out and keep them to myself.

These aren’t the only stories I get.

Yesterday, I chatted with a student while she worked on a 1,000 piece Harry Potter puzzle I set up in our maker space. “I love puzzles. I have so many at my house. And I love books. My mom does too. That’s why I love coming here.”

“What do you do with your puzzles when you finish them? Do you pull them apart and swap them out or do you display them?”

“Modge Podge. I pour Mod Podge on them and attach them to canvas so I can hang them in my room.”

“Cool,” I say, pointing to my Wonder Woman puzzle displayed above the graphic novels. “I do the same, but I use foam core on the back. Heat the blade of a box cutter and it slices right through to trim it.”

We continued with the conversation of books. She described a tattoo her mom wants to get: a girl holding a stack of books ascending a staircase with one side of her parted hair turning into a bookcase. I oohed and ahhed, imagining something similar to what I’ve pinned to my Pinterest boards. “My mom also has tattoos her grandfather drew. He would be my great grandfather. He escaped Germany during World War II and he drew a lot during that time. He came to the United States. I’m half Jewish.”

“Your great grandfather fled Germany during World War II?” I had collaborated with this student’s teacher to prepare them for a unit on the Holocaust. “Does your teacher know this?”


“Have you written this story? Have you told it?”


“You have an important story to tell.”

“Yeah, my mom says her tattoos tell stories. One arm is for the tattoos her grandfather drew. Her left arm is for her vacations. She loves fish and the beach. She has a mahi-mahi, a catfish, and a turtle. One time, we went to visit my grandfather in Oregon. We went in a red van so she has a red van on her arm too. I’m not sure where we’re going this summer, but I think she’ll add another fish.”

She continued adding pieces to the puzzle.

“Thanks for sharing. I think you have a good story you need to write.”

I went back to the third cart of books awaiting processing. Of all the new stories that made their way into the library this past week, this has been my favorite.

The Case for Audiobooks

SOLSC Day 25

“‘…I discovered the the marvel of audiobooks. Listening to them, I realized that the great writers are meant to be heard.'”

John Bowers as told to Julia Cameron in The Listening Path: The Creative Art of Attention

I’m a slow reader. I take a while to finish a book. I like puttering around the pages, observing the characters, new to me words, conventions, dialogue. When I was a kid, I wound up in remedial reading classes. I don’t know why. I could read. I read a ton. Just not fast like the other kids. I struggled with comprehension because of four answer choices none of them were ever the ones my mind discovered. I wound up with English degree and became and ELA teacher. Take that!

When I enrolled in a children’s and YA multicultural literature course for my library science degree, with its heavy reading list, I turned to audiobooks. The intensive five-week course required me to read at least twenty books. Sure, they’re children’s and YA novels, but finishing four per week was too much. I subscribed to Audible and borrowed what was available from the library.

What I didn’t know is that many authors read their own books. I’m hanging out with the authors and the characters they created. I took them on walks. I took them on road trips. I let them cook with me and we did laundry. I read books I wouldn’t normally pick up and discovered I gravitate toward nonfiction books. I’ve laughed and yelled and cried and rewound sections over and over. I take screenshots of the time for a certain section in case I borrow the book again. I’ll know where my favorite parts live. On my own audiobooks, I bookmark such places. Oh, and I annotate. Annotate!

Over the years, I’ve hung out with Brené Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, Sherman Alexie, Shonda Rhimes, Malcolm Gladwell, and Matthew McConaughey. Alright, alright, alright. That was a fun read. I’ve read books during the school year instead of saving them for summer break. Yesterday I finished The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah. I’m not an easy crier, but she sure hit me with this one.

I prefer reading and holding a book. Audiobooks have become welcome alternatives to this book snob who once didn’t consider the other kind of reading world available through the human voice. It’s like having personal tour guide. The reader does the work so I can kick back and enjoy the ride. For books that become particularly meaningful, I make a mental note to get copy of the book so I can, ahem, annotate.

Royal Keepers of the Kindergarten Kingdom

That’s what I call our kindergarten teachers because not only do they keep the Kindergarten Kingdom, they do a phenomenal job teaching the little subjects. I have no idea how they do it. It’s a gift. I don’t have such a gift. I didn’t even have it with my own kids. They’re older now, in the sweet spot of childhood, one who started middle school and a high school senior prepping for his exit exactly four months from now.

With the pandemic, my role at work has me popping in to K-5 classes every third week on a specials rotation. Other weeks, I’m conducting my read alouds and library lessons via Google Meet from my library office. Not ideal, but I get to see once class of students per grade level every day for a week. I’m more comfortable with older kids. I taught 4th grade for 4 years, made it through one year of teaching second grade, and spent a full dozen years teaching sixth graders.

I went into the kinder class today. The door to the girl’s bathroom was locked with two littles needing it asap. It isn’t my classroom, so I had no idea how to jiggle it open. I called the office for assistance. All of the adorable kiddles are coming up to me to tell me their good things of the day; a new student, an upcoming birthday-in summer, a birthday back in September, getting to sit at a friend’s table, a new Among Us face mask, new shoes, two boxes of school supplies, and puppies. Always puppies.

I began the class with one little online and the rest in the classroom. It takes me a few minutes to set up when I arrive, so we chat. I sensed the excitement, which I knew would be the case without sensing it. We started out with movement and my go-to, their favorite, Go Noodle. Until they all start complaining about how they don’t like the video I selected. Sure, there are better ways to involve them in choosing the video, but I didn’t want to get close to a Kindergarten Cop level of teaching and they were getting restless. I wore latex gloves, but the touchscreen doesn’t like them. Before I could start the first video, they all swarmed to the screen to help me. We went through about 10 minutes of movement and transitioned to a read aloud.

We read “The Cool Bean,” an adorable book about a garbanzo feeling awkward in front of old bean friends who were now the “cool” beans of the school. We discussed kindness, feelings, how it can be hard to be kind, the setting, and different kinds of beans. I printed an activity for them with the main character front and center. I popped a link to a Pear Deck of a similar activity for the student learning from home. Most were excited about getting to design new clothes and a setting for the garbanzo. Before I finished distributing the handouts, one little comes up to me, proudly showing me the work.

“I’m finished!” Red marker encircled the bean. 15 more minutes to go. “Well,” I suggested, “where is the bean? Can you tell me where the bean is and draw the setting?” Those were the instructions I gave before they began. When some asked if they could cut out their characters, I encouraged them. Some started retelling the story and others started drawing other bean friends.

I started packing up my cart to transition to the next class. The teacher returned and her littles eagerly shared their activity and story. I did it. I don’t know how, but it worked. I managed the Kindergarten Kingdom for less than an hour and there was no evidence of a Kindergarten Cop in sight.